Archive for March 16th, 2010

Yoga Video Tree Pose - Vrksasana
Image by myyogaonline via Flickr

By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

I started practicing yoga about 18 years ago. I was working at a computer all day and went to get my first professional massage. During the massage, my massage therapist lifted my arms over my head to  stretch and I thought, “Wow, I never move my arms anywhere but up to my keyboard and mouse. this arm stretching stuff feels great!” At that time I didn’t stretch much and if I did, it was my legs that I stretched, not my arms or back. She recommended yoga and I joined my first yoga class at the local YMCA.
Through the years, I’ve been able to attend many yoga classes, workshops and do my own home yoga practice. I find yoga not only helpful to my body, but is also very calming, relaxing and stress reducing. Now research shows that practicing yoga actually has a chemical effect on your brain in that it increases levels of a neurotransmitter, GABA, believed to calm the nervous system.

Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine found that for experienced yoga practitioners, brain GABA levels increase by 27% after a session of yoga. This suggests that the practice of yoga should be explored as a treatment for disorders with low GABA levels such as depression and anxiety disorders. Authors of the study conclude that future studies should compare yoga to other forms of exercise to help determine whether yoga or exercise alone can alter GABA levels.

The Study

The sample subjects of the study included of 8 yoga practitioners and 11 comparison subjects. The Yoga practitioners completed a 60-minute yoga session and comparison subjects completed a 60-minute reading session. According to Suite 101, “Magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging conducted before and immediately after each intervention indicated that the yoga practitioners had a 27% increase in GABA levels after the yoga session but no increase after the reading session.”

According to Barry Keate of Arches, Tinninus Formulas, this ability of yoga to increase GABA also has promising applications for sufferers of tinnitus due to its abilility to increase GABA levels. In his article, “How Yoga Increases GABA Levels And Improves Tinnitus” he quotes Dr. Chris Streeter, the lead researcher of the study and a yoga practioner herself about the implications of her study:

Dr. Chris Streeter stated in a newspaper interview “I’m quite sure this is the first study that’s shown there is measurable change in a major brain neurotransmitter with a behavioral intervention such as yoga. What’s really fabulous is this is hard science that is able to clearly document neurochemical changes in the brain.”

Dr. Streeter learned that the National Institutes of Health gave a high score to her research grant proposal for a larger yoga-GABA study and hopes to begin soon. “It will be a much bigger study,” she said. “We will use yoga-naïve people to gauge how regular practice can change GABA levels. It will also include more ability to gauge the positive effects of yoga over time.”

How Do GABA Levels Affect Anxiety and Depression?

Read the excerpt which follows from Laura Owens article in Suite 101, “GABA and Yoga: Decrease Depression and Anxiety: Yoga Boosts Essential Calming Neurotransmitter in Brain”

GABA or gamma-aminobutyric acid is an amino acid made in brain cells from glutamate. It functions as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, meaning it blocks nerve impulses. Without GABA, nerve cells fire too often and too easily. GABA is especially abundant in the cerebral cortex, where thinking occurs and sensations are interpreted, (Jacob J. Schor, N.D. and Rena A. Bloom, N.D.,“GABA: Gamma-Amino Buytric Acid,” Naturopathic Clinic News. Accessed January 14, 2009.)

As one of the primary neurotransmitters, GABA is responsible for inhibitory processes. It elevates the production of alpha waves associated with feeling relaxed (without drowsiness) while boosting mental alertness. Moreover, GABA lowers beta waves that contribute to a state of nervousness, racing thoughts and hyperactivity.

Research, including one study published in the Trends of Pharmacology Science indicate that a dysfunction in the GABA system can contribute to anxiety and depression. (Cryan JF, Kaupmann K, ” ‘B’ happy!: A role for GABA (B) receptors in anxiety and depression.” Trends Pharmacology Science, 2005 January 26 (1):36-43.

Read more at Suite101: GABA and Yoga: Decrease Depression and Anxiety: Yoga Boosts Essential Calming Neurotransmitter in Brain

For an abstract of the actual research on Yoga and GABA, click here.

How Does GABA Effect Tinnitus?

Barry Keates explores research on GABA and tinnitus. Read an excerpt from his article, “How Yoga Increases GABA Levels And Improves Tinnitus” below.

Dr. Andrew Shulman

In 2002, Drs. Abraham Shulman, Arnold Strashun and Barbara Goldstein, from the Martha Entemann Tinnitus Research Center, published a paper describing the common central pathway through the brain through which all tinnitus symptoms must travel. (Shulman A, Strashun A, Goldstein B. GABA-Benzodiazepine-Chloride Receptor-Targeted Therapy for Tinnitus Control. Int Tinnitus J. 2002;8(1):30-6.) This pathway, they determined, is the chemical receptor called gamma-aminobutyric acid-benzodiazepine-chloride receptor (GABA/BZ/Cl) in the medial temporal lobe system. The researchers stated the function of the GABA receptor is to inhibit central nervous system synapse activity.

Deficiency in the GABA receptor is directly related to the worsening of tinnitus, which is marked by increased emotional difficulty, anxiety, stress, depression and fear. Impairment of GABA function also leads to convulsions, which provides clinical support for the concept that tinnitus is an epileptic-like auditory phenomenon.

Read Barry Keates entire article here.

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